A tobacco free finance system? Here's how.

Radiation oncologist Dr Bronwyn King decided to change the world of superannuation in March 2010 when she discovered that her own super was being invested in big tobacco. Dr King was unimpressed when her super fund representative told her that her superannuation had been going towards Philip Morris International, an American cigarette and tobacco company.

Until that point, Dr King had been a disengaged member, however she is now the executive officer and founder of Tobacco Free Portfolios, which aims to reduce and eliminate pension fund investment in tobacco. Over the past five years Dr King has helped to redirect $6 billion of investment away from the tobacco industry to other industries globally.

The World Health Organisation has estimated the world is on track for one billion tobacco-related deaths this century, Dr King believes that this can be changed by engaging the finance industry.

Dr King has admitted her journey was unexpected, and she has learnt a lot about the finance industry.

Dr King said, ‘I was very green when I came to this, I didn't understand any of the language, regulatory environment, the rules or the systems. I was just very naively coming in as a doctor saying, can we please fix this?’

One of the main questions Dr King has been asked by the industry is, ‘If we do exclude tobacco, are you going to come back next week and make us exclude 10 other industries? How can you justify excluding just tobacco?’

In response to the question Dr King developed a framework of three questions investors should ask any company they mean to invest in. These questions are:

  • Can the product made by the company be used safely?
  • Are there any other effective strategies to deal with the problem? For example, can you engage with the company to encourage them to behave better?
  • Is there a problem caused by the company so significant on a global scale that it’s subject to a UN treaty?

To tackle the difficult task of discovering if your super is invested in tobacco or not, Tobacco Free Portfolios has launched a crowdfunding campaign to help roll out a new initiative called ‘Verified Tobacco Free’.

Tobacco free funds that agree to being audited will be able to purchase and adopt the Verified Tobacco Free logo to display on their website and letters to members. Tobacco Free Portfolios hopes to encourage other funds to follow suit by increasing awareness about the issue.

‘The goal is to raise awareness of this not just in super funds but in sovereign wealth funds, insurers, banks, reinsurers, fund managers,’ Dr King said.

Tobacco Free Portfolios are engaged with more than 100 organisations globally, working towards making Australia the first country in the world to have a completely tobacco-free super system.